Forza Horizon 4 Review

October 22, 2018
Xbox One
Also on: PC

Since publishing the first Forza Horizon on the Xbox 360 back in 2012 the developer, Playground Games, has gone from strength to strength. Each successive release in the series has benefited greatly from their strong partnership with Forza Motorsport developers Turn 10 studios. As a result both Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon share their improvements; what you see in one will most likely turn up in the other in some shape or form. Such is their close relationship, it came as no surprise that, at this year’s E3, Microsoft announced that they had bought out Playground Games, officially making them a first-party developer. So here we are, Forza Horizon 4, their first release as a first-party developer and, after Horizon 3’s success, a title with a lot to live up to.

Anyone who perhaps wondered whether they could match Horizon 3’s visit Down Under can rest assured that, to all intents and purposes, they most certainly have. Everything that made our visit to the lucky country varied and exciting is all there and, with the addition of changing seasons and its associated challenges, they’ve somehow added even more entertainment. In the beginning you’re just an unknown driver hoping to join the roster, a departure from the festival ownership garnered in Horizon 3. This time around there’s only one major hub and you’re free to just go about your adventures without having to recruit drivers or open new festival spots. It’s wonderfully liberating and dare we say allows you to enjoy things that little bit more.

Driving through country roads in a Jaguar… glorious!

A good thing too as there’s so much crammed into what feels like a slightly smaller map. This time around we’re in the UK as opposed to Australia and the map is a reflection of that. Gone are the wide open expanses, replaced by rolling hills, windy roads and plenty of events, challenges, drift zones and speed cameras through which to explore them. Not only that but this is an online and shared world so as well as the venerable AI drivatars you will also come across fellow players. This feature is very reminiscent of the long forgotten Test Drive Unlimited series only far more polished and with a heck of a lot more things to do.

Should you choose to, you can create a convoy with your fellow racers and set about completing challenges as a group. Alternatively, if you’re feeling feisty, you can challenge them to a head-to-head race to see who is the fastest. Most, however, will join a club and through that, create and join convoys to complete the myriad of events on offer including the newly added Forzathon Live. These hourly events are open to all and sundry and set anyone who joins in three successive challenges that must be completed within the time limit. Stall on one challenge and the clock will keep ticking down but fear not as for each challenge you complete you are awarded Forzathon points.

Along with credits, Forzathon points are an in-game currency and while credits are for upgrades and cars only, Forzathon points can be redeemed for vanity items, horns and cars. What’s available changes with the seasons so every week there’s something new you can buy with your accrued points. It’s sort of like the speciality vendor from Forza Motorsport 7 but hopefully it’ll be a lot more varied. Thankfully, what doesn’t exist in Forza Horizon 4 is loot boxes and it’s all the better for it. There are also no purchasable credits meaning anything and everything can earned by playing, just as it should be!

Halo, is it me you’re looking for?

There is still, however, the car pass alongside two expansions so if you decide to acquire Forza Horizon 4 through Microsoft’s Game Pass service for free, if you want to do everything, you’ll need to purchase these separately. There are already challenges and events that require DLC cars but, unless you’re a completionist, there’s plenty to see and do without needing to pick these up.

Speaking of things to see, playing Horizon 4 in full 4K is glorious and the attention to detail in Edinburgh is jaw dropping. So much so it brought back memories of tearing down Prince’s Street in Project Gotham Racing so while it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see PGR again, Horizon 4 does a damn good job of filling its shoes. What’s interesting though is that, for the first time in the series, if you are playing on an Xbox One X you can choose quality or performance in relation to your graphics.

Quality is the standard 30fps that the series has been locked to and is the Forza Horizon staple. However, should you turn on performance mode this’ll bump things up to a 60fps. It may not sound like a lot but for us, it made things just that little bit more fluid and if we’re honest, on our 55 inch 4K TV we couldn’t tell the difference between the two modes visually. On PC, the first time you boot the game up it will run some basic benchmarks and suggest settings for you. We’re running an Intel Core i7 7700K, 16GB RAM and a GTX 1080 though running at 1080p as opposed to 4K. This setup brought back an Ultra setting from the automatic benchmarks and we barely noticed any issues though some screen tearing did occur when browsing the map in the pause menu.

Compensating much?

There are other little niggles too such as being unable to join a convoy until you make the roster in single-player. This only takes a couple of hours to get out the way and works as a way to introduce you to each of the four seasons before you join the online mode with the weekly changing seasons. It’s not much but it was frustrating not being able to join our friends until we’d managed to prove ourselves. There’s also an issue with Forzathon Live whereby it doesn’t scale with the number of attendees. We had more than one instance where it was us, a friend and a dream as we tried in vain to pass the second round’s drift target score. It would be far more helpful if, once a certain amount of time had elapsed, it locked the event to those racing and scaled back the target if there’s only a handful of racers.

These are relatively minor niggles in the grand scheme of things and in all fairness didn’t stop us having fun even if we were several thousand points off making our target. This was mainly because we were earning skill points like they were going out of fashion and drifting as much as we could in the time limit. Skill points still unlock perks but this time around each car has their own set. So if you decide to spend a lot of time in one particular car it’s worth your while unlocking as much as you can rather than waste them on ones you only own to compete in some events. It’s a neat little feature and given the number of cars on the roster (which this year is well over four hundred) those who wish to unlock them all will have plenty of driving to do.

Hills as far as the eye can see

Adding to the number of things to collect to the established trove of barn finds, fast travel boards and booster boards are buildings and businesses. The latter take the form of self-contained stories such as being a stunt driver or another taking a leaf out of Crazy Taxi’s book. Completing them gives you rewards and is just another way that Horizon 4 keeps you hooked and entertained with an almost inescapable “just one more race” feel. The buildings too come with perks including one allowing you to fast travel anywhere on the map. If you’re feeling particularly pretentious you can even buy Edinburgh castle though the Scottish half of me just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The real star of Horizon 4, though, is its setting because it allow for the seasons. Each week this changes and so each week you’ll load things up and everything will have changed. There’ll be new events tied to the season that will disappear when its gone. The shop will have new items that will rotate out once the season changes. By integrating this feature Playground Games has created a game that feels like it lives and breathes all on its own. Somewhere where, every time the season changes, you feel like you’re playing a whole new game.

Forza Horizon 3 set the bar high and it was rightfully praised but Horizon 4 has come along and quite frankly knocked it out of the park onto a passing train that’s taken it somewhere down the coast. There’s lots to do, plenty of people to do it with and with a handling model that’s arcadey, forgiving, but more importantly fun. Very rarely do we see a franchise that improves so impressively on each successive release but Playground Games has done so and after Forza Horizon 4 you can only feel that Microsoft has played its hand well in its acquisition of the studio.

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Fast cars, twisty roads and more fun and challenges than you can shake a stick at. If you get bored playing Forza Horizon 4 then clearly you’ve not spent enough time going sideways.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.